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Tomblin creates panel to study road needs, funding

ST. ALBANS, W.Va. -- While revenue available for West Virginia highway construction has remained relatively stagnant since the mid-1990s, the price of concrete has risen 36 percent, asphalt has gone up 82 percent and diesel fuel prices have more than tripled.

At the same time, congressional earmarks for building highways have become a thing of the past, and national leaders from the president on down have made it clear they expect states to do more to take care of their own transportation infrastructure needs.

That leaves West Virginia in a position where it "can no longer fulfill general paving and maintenance obligations of the existing system and meet the calls for new highway construction," according to state Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox.

In a bid to remedy that situation, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Tuesday signed an executive order creating the West Virginia Blue Ribbon Highway Commission. The 24-member panel is charged with developing a long-term strategic plan for addressing the state's highway construction and maintenance needs and identifying the funding sources needed to pay for them.

"I'm asking them to recommend legislation for introduction in the 2013 session," Tomblin said. Developing a long-term strategic highway plan "will require a collective effort of business, labor, and state, county and city government," he said.

Tomblin announced the creation of the commission during a ceremony at St. Albans Roadside Park, where work on the $24 million rehabilitation and expansion of the 80-year-old Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge was underway in the background.

Creation of the commission "is something West Virginia needs to do," said House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne. In addition to improving public safety and accommodating commerce, highway construction "puts West Virginians to work," Thompson said. He announced that he was naming Delegates Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, and Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, to represent the House of Delegates on the commission.

In West Virginia, home of the nation's sixth-largest state highway system, "highway funding hasn't kept pace with need," said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. "We need to put in place a permanent funding mechanism."

Kessler said he had named Sens. Robert Beach, D-Monongalia, and Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, to represent the Senate on the commission.

Tomblin said he planned to appoint the remaining members of the commission by the end of this week.

The panel includes representatives from the state Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and state AFL-CIO, the state Business and Industry Council, the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation of West Virginia, the West Virginia Municipal League, the West Virginia Trucking Association, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, the state Hospitality and Travel Association, the Contractors Association of West Virginia and the American Council of Engineering Companies of West Virginia, and one citizen member from each congressional district.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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